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The Americanization of the Finns

John Wargelin, A.M.,

President of Suomi College and Theological Seminary

Chapter I.  Introduction. Meaning of Americanization Discussed.
Chapter II.  Historical Background of the Finnish Race.
Chapter III.  Causes of Immigration from Finland.
Chapter IV.  Finnish Immigration to America.
Chapter V.  Distribution and Occupations of the Finns.
Chapter VI.  Cultural Life of the Finns. a) School.
Chapter VII.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). b) Press.
Chapter VIII.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). c) Church.
Chapter IX.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). d) Societies.
Chapter X.  Naturalization and Political Life.

Chapter X.
Naturalization and Political Life.

The work of naturalization is a very important side of the Americanization problem. The newcomers are not only to live among us, but to become one of us, i. e. part of our political organization, with certain duties and obligations to the whole and with corresponding rights and privileges accorded to each citizen. In the work of aiding foreigners in their naturalization process, F. C. Butler, author of the Government Bulletin to which we have previously referred, suggests that a great field of usefulness for community committees is open before them among the foreign born who desire naturalization (p. 59). These committees could assist the judges and examiners in many ways; they could establish evening schools for the prospective citizens, training them in political matters pertaining to the organization of our national and political life, and in giving them a right understanding of Americanism. In our knowledge such work has not been done to a very great extent. We have been more concerned with giving technical definitions of Americanism than in putting our theories into practice. Campaigns for "100 per cent naturalization" have been generally our main method of solving this problem. Of this mode of Americanization work the Bulletin says that "100 per cent naturalization" and similar drives should be discountenanced. It should be perfectly obvious that forced or over-stimulated naturalization can result, as a rule, only in mere lip service and in men who are citizens in name only", (p. 59).

What is the attitude of the Finns towards naturalization? Do they show any special interest in becoming citizens? Our answer is, yes; they are very anxious to become naturalized. It may be said that of those who have been here for a reasonably long period of time one finds very few persons who have not taken out, at least, their first papers, and the majority of them are full-fledged citizens. The writer knows this to be true from his own experience, his father having been naturalized about thirty years ago, thus bringing the privilege of citizenship to all the members of his family. The same is true in general regarding all the Finns.

It is humorous to recall in this connection, that about the year 1909, when Finnish Socialists were becoming rather numerous, an attempt was made by certain political leaders in a section of our country to deny the Finns the right of citizenship on the theory that they belong to the Mongolian race. A conclusion may be drawn from this, that in the opinion of some, the Finns were becoming naturalized in too great numbers. Concerning this theory of the racial origin of the Finns, as was pointed out in the second chapter, we may say that it does not hold with the leading ethnologists of the present time. This theory was first propounded by Mathias Alexander Castren, the great Finnish ethnologist, who coined the term of "Fenno-Ugric", placing this group of languages in the great Ural-Altaic group. His belief was that the Finns had lived in the remote past on the northern slopes of the Altaic Mountains in Asia. This theory has been accepted without much speculation by later historians. Thus we find that H. G. Wells follows this old hypothesis in his "Outline of History", and places the Finns with the Mongolians. Since Castren's time, however, Finland has been fortunate in having a host of eminent scholars who have gone thoroughly into this subject. As a result of their studies we may state that the early habitation of the Finns can not be shown to have been in the central part of Asia; it must rather be found on either side of the Ural Mountains, or perhaps in the valley of the central part of the Volga River in Russia, where large numbers of Finnish tribes live even at the present time.1

Politically the Finns may be said to belong to the Republican party; though some, of course, choose to vote with the former Prohibition party or with the Democrats. But in recent years a great many of them have become known as strong believers in Socialism, and many have voted and labored with parties having this platform. At the present time about 40% of the population of Finland are Socialists, and it has been estimated that about 25% of the Finns in America belong to the Socialist party.2 They have become very well known during the last years, especially during the War; too much so, judged on the basis of their importance as compared to all the Finns.

But here again, as is so often the case, the sensational papers play up the negative activities of foreign groups in a strong light, while they are entirely silent, on the other hand, concerning their positive achievements for the good of our life in general. This has happened an infinite number of times even within the writer's memory. The "Copper Country Strike" was interpreted in this way.3 The same incident was repeated in Chicago during the investigation of the propaganda of the I. W. W. press in opposition to the War. We may also be permitted to refer to an incident reported in "The Boston American", in 1920. This paper came out with a glaring headline on the front page, "150 Finns made to kneel down and kiss the flag". The incident referred to happened at Weirton, W. Va. We admit that there may have been a group of Finnish Socialists in Weirton whose type of Americanism might be suspected by certain other types of Americans. But why cast a reflection on the whole nationality because of the deeds or opinions of a few? Without fear of contradiction we may say that "The Boston American" had never given such prominence to any of the hundreds of worthy deeds and sacrifices made by the better class of Finnish Americans. For example, we have seen nothing of the services of the ten thousand Finnish young men who served our country during the last War, and of the hundreds who made "the supreme sacrifice" for the land of their adoption, or birth, as the case may have been. Neither have we seen any credit given to the labors of the scores of Liberty Loan speakers or campaign managers, nor to the services of the rank and file of large numbers of Finns.

We have given these thoughts prominence here, not because of any ill-feeling, but that they may serve in arriving at a right understanding of the immigrant. The case does not apply to the Finns alone, it is common experience to every immigrant class. "We have been too prone to judge whole groups by the acts of individuals", says the U. S. Bulletin on Community Americanization. "The newspapers have unconsciously and unintentionally helped to give us distorted pictures of a whole race by closing their stories of crime with such statements as 'the murderer is a Hungarian' or 'the criminal is a Greek'. If they cared to do so, they could not infrequently close with a statement that 'the scoundrel is a native-born American', but this they do not do. Such statements have had a tendency to connect criminality in our minds with our foreign-born people. Obviously, this is a deep injuctice."4

The War put to a severe test the Americanization of our immigrant population. "Only those are fit to live", in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure. Never yet was worthy adventure worthily carried through by the man who put his personal safety first. Never yet was a country worth living in unless its sons and daughters were of that stern stuff which bade them die for it at need." Our foreign born sons marched together with the native born on the fields of battle and thereby proved to the political cynics, who were skeptical concerning the sucess of our democracy, that we did not compose a heterogeneous mass but that we must be recognized as an organic and united nation. Thousands of foreign born young men made the supreme sacrifice. Of the Finns some 10,000, according to government estimates, served in the World War. A great many of them were volunteers, while others were drafted. In this connection it must be admitted that a few mis-informed Finnish Socialists refused to register in the draft and were looked upon as slackers. But generally they changed their attitude when confronted with sound arguments. Other Finns took an active part with other Americans, in keeping the home-fires burning, by serving as speakers or war loan workers or in filling important positions in social welfare work among the soldiers. In the North Central States they were organized under the Foreign Language Division, as a Finnish Department with headquarters at Chicago, having a director of their own for the 7th Federal District. The Finnish Lutheran Church was also a member of The National Lutheran Commission for Soldiers' and Sailors' Welfare.

For the better understanding of important social duties and the Americanization question, there was organized by Finnish men about this time The Lincoln Loyalty League at Duluth, Minnesota, which later moved to Chicago, Illinois, because of its more central location. This organization was instrumental in organizing public meetings in several states for the discussion of the principles of Americanization and the importance of naturalization. It created a lively interest in the Americanization question through these meetings and literature.

The objects of the League are expressed more definitely in the following words, quoted from the By-Laws of the said organization. We read: "The objects of the League are to aid, encourage, and instruct Finnish-born residents of the United States to become citizens thereof; to aid, encourage, and instruct citizens of the United States of Finnish birth and their descendants in the discharge of the obligations and in the maintenance of the privileges of American citizenship; to disseminate among all residents of Finnish descent, whether they be citizens or aliens, a knowledge of American principles and ideals and to imbue them with the American spirit, and generally to foster in them a loyalty to and a love for the United States, its government and institutions."

Coming back to the discussion of Socialism among the Finns, we must try to give some explanation for its existence. It would take more time than we have at our leisure to go into this matter thoroughly. Socialism is not found among the Finns alone, it is becoming more and more common in the industrial life of all civilized nations. We do not attempt to find justification for it, for in our opinion it can not be justified. But there must be causes for it; it has not not fallen down from the clouds, it is earthly and has earthly causes for its existence.

Prof. C. H. Cooley, of the University of Michigan, gave a very clear and fair explanation of the state of confusion and seeming anarchy in our modern society.5 Our country as well as many others has experienced very rapid changes in the development of means of communication. Modern inventions have made travel comparatively easy; telegraph, telephones, radio, etc. have brought us in very close touch with the whole world; newspapers and books have become the common property of all. These and other factors, which might be named, have brought about a very serious period of transition in our modes of life and thinking. Primary groups have become disorganized to a great extent, resulting in a general state of confusion and contributing to the development of individualism in a marked degree. Everyone must choose for himself at a time when established customs and standards are changing. But this individualism has tended to become selfishness.

That this is true, can readily be seen as a fact in our industrial life. The industries are not organized on broad democratic bases, the individual often becomes a mere tool without much chance for the development of his personality. The principle prevailing in industry is competition. This in itself is not wrong, but the competition should be regulated "in the interest of justice and service" to all concerned. "Now it is largely a condition of private war regardless of the interests of the individuals and society." It is thus "a merciless exploitation of weaker classes" and "builds up conditions for profiteering". What we need is "team-play" that is motivated by the interests of society at large. These thoughts of Prof. Cooley give us a fair interpretation of the present day industrial conditions, which are found to lie at the root of many of our perplexing social questions.

Harry B. Fosdick gives us a more definite understanding of this ideal in his book, entitled, "The Second Mile."6 In this book he relates an incident that took place during the World War. A certain British boat was torpedoed by a submarine, and the sailors were thrown into the ocean. A life-boat came to the rescue, but four men were unable to find room in it. They were left. While the boat was pulling away, these men gathered up their courage and cheered those who were being carried away to safety. That is going "the second mile"; for instead of finding fault with their condition, or complaining of other contributary causes, they showed the highest spirit of team-play. When capital and labor can cheer for each other's success and wish them "God speed", it is then that industry experiences "higher control".

It must be further stated that Socialism among many Finns can be traced to the political oppression that Finland has suffered at the hands of Russian autocrats. It was immediately after the "February Manifesto" that the emigration from Finland increased so rapidly, as seen from our statistical charts on page 57.

We can offer no better method for combating the spread of Socialism than the one suggested by the Government Bulletin. "There is a negative school of Americanization abroad in the land. It would Americanize America by 'fighting Bolshevism' by word and laws, by more police power, more restriction, more espionage. It is right that our Nation should stand on guard for the principles on which it was founded. But no campaign was ever won merely by the zealous, punishing of the minority. The America of the future will be built not by our fear for it, but by the belief of one hundred million citizens in it. Bolshevism is the natural fruit of ignorance and injustice. Let us therefore bend our efforts to the eradication of these causes, and the effects will disappear of themselves".7

But to come back to our main theme. Are the Finns getting anywhere in the political world? It might be said that the political life is no criterion on which to base an estimate of any race. We do not, however, wish to deny the importance of politics in a democratic state, such as we live in. Greater results might be expected of the Finns than they have shown thus far. But it must be remembered that they are comparatively recent comers, and that it is very difficult for the older men to acquire anything like perfect control of English, which is a necessity in political life. This naturally places them in the position of "the rank and file", generally. Of the younger men and women, however, many have risen to important positions in city, county, and state politics. At random we can point out a few offices that have been filled by them, e. g. the cities of Eveleth, Minnesota, Hancock, Michigan, and Fairport, O., have had Finnish mayors; Miss Mayme Kaukonen, who served in the last named position, was the first woman mayor in the United States; the village of Red Jacket (Calumet), Michigan, has also a Finnish supervisor at the present time. Many other city offices have also been filled by them at different times in different states. The towns of Calumet, and Hancock, in Michigan, as well as Nashwauk, Minnesota, etc., have had Finnish postmasters. The state legislatures of Minnesota and Montana have had Finnish members; and now we can point to a Finnish member in the Congress of the United States, he being elected from St. Louis County, Minnesota.

It may be said of the Finns as is true of many other people, that some of the best and most influential men in other fields, have no political ambitions, politics being looked upon as a political game, in which no honest and upright citizen would wish to be engaged. This however is not right. By the practice of such opinion, politics often falls in the hands of unscrupulous political "bosses" and demagogues. But political bosses must be relegated with their mediaeval theories where they belong, and the public must be educated to appreciate its rights and to discharge its duties in accordance with our democratic principles. Loyalty to the society ought to keep any citizen from denying the State such service as is in his power to perform.

1 Uno Holmberg and others; see also Chapter II.

2 Van Cleef, The Finn in America, p. 28.

3 See Chapter I.

4 Bulletin, p. 11.

5 Lectures on Sociology, 1922.

6 See Gospel of St. Matthew, V: 41.

7 Bulletin, 1919, No. 76, Community Americanization, pp. 26, 17.

Publication: John Wargelin, The Americanization of the Finns. The Finnish Lutheran Book Concern. Hancock, Michigan 1924, 185 pages.

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